Suzanne Syz, the Zurich-born, Geneva-based jewellery designer, talks about hanging out with Andy Warhol and her whimsical designs.
What approach do you take to design? "Some of my pieces have a lot of humour and are whimsical. I don't take my designs too seriously, even if the jewellery pieces are serious quality-wise and stone-wise. For example, my first watch is named Her Ben [right]. It's named after the London landmark Big Ben but is a version for women. That cheekiness is contrasted with the design, which features white jade, black onyx and diamonds and a strap made of baby stingray."
Tell us about the craftsmanship that goes into your pieces. "I started designing jewellery 16 years ago. It took me three years to find the best ateliers. I travelled all over the world to find the most gifted people, and Geneva was the place that could make my kind of pieces. There were a few things that made the artisans from Geneva stand out. First of all, they come from the watch industry, which is extremely precise, so they have thorough training. Secondly, they are open to new materials and like to find solutions."
For much of the 1980s and early 90s you lived in New York and were part of the contemporary art scene. How has that period influenced your designs? "That is where my creative influence comes from - the contemporary art world. I never trained to be a jewellery designer. I am self-taught, which is sometimes a good thing because you don't think classically, you think openly and there are no limits. That's probably why I use a lot of materials that other people would be afraid to use, like titanium."
Your social circle in New York once included artists such as Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons. Tell us about that time. "I met [Warhol and Koons] back in the 1980s, when I was in my early 20s. I was friends with these guys, so we were all going out at night, going to their studios. I knew why they were doing certain paintings, because I was given the chance to understand the artists much better. When you have a creative mind and you have a chance to get into a circle like that, it will certainly influence you."
You've been collecting contemporary art for more than 35 years. How did it all start? "One of the first pieces I ever fell in love with was by Jean-Michel Basquiat. Now his work is priced in the millions, but I bought one of his early pieces when it was just US$2,500. Back in 1982, he had his first showing at Annina Nosei [gallery] in downtown Soho [in New York]. Annina had a great eye, and she exhibited him in the cellar downstairs because she wasn't really sure if he would do well. He came from the Bronx and was spray painting subway trains before that, so you can see why she thought that way.
"I was helping Annina to hang artworks when I saw one of his pieces. It was priced at US$1,500, which was a lot of money 35 years ago. Of course, as a student at that time, I couldn't afford it. But the next time I saw it, the price had already doubled, and it made me want to buy it more. Eventually I got to know Jean-Michel better and started to buy more of his pieces."